News from the Locarno Festival

Day 1: The Sweeny

Day 1: The Sweeny



The following text is available on Roger Avary's blog

The hotel the Thieve’s Guild had booked him into turned out to be fantastic, nested on a slope that rises sharply up from the  Grande Piazza in the center of town, and his room had a stunning view of Lake Maggiore.  He stood on the balcony, watching a funicular train rise diagonally up the steep mountainside, and he thought to himself that the Guild was treating him far too well.

“Nothing comes without a price,” he thought to himself, and as he scanned the itinerary left in his room alongside the fruit plate by the Jury Secretary, he realized that every waking moment was to be occupied by various duties, tasks, challenges, and responsibilities.  This was, in fact, work — but with the cool Alpine breeze and the warm sun it felt much more like a vacation from his current obligations back home.

He was in the middle of a job for the Dutchman, a brilliant man who had pulled a number of large heists in America before returning to his roots in the Netherlands.  The Dutchman was an absolute genius, and didn’t suffer fools easily.

He wanted to impress the Dutchman, because he had always been one of his heroes — and he had modeled his own career by studying the Dutchman’s famous safe-cracking techniques.

The two men couldn’t have been more different, but he had skills the Dutchman required to pull this latest job — and there was much he could in return learn from his new mentor.

When the Guild had called him, and placed him on the Jury, it was in the middle of the job’s planning stage.  He was going to have to work nights in order to make up for the lost time.  The Dutchman was the last person he wanted to fail.

The first order of business was to meet the other members of the Jury.  He knew their work — all but one, the Swiss-German.  He was the wildcard; the one of them who wasn’t a thief, but an assassin, and when he went down to the hotel restaurant to meet them all he discovered that the Swiss-German wasn’t scheduled to arrive until the next day, something to do with “business” in Los Angeles.

He sat down at the table, and though he had never met any of them he was well aware of their reputation as artists of the profession.

There was the South Korean, who looked like he could have acted in an Asian remake ofReservoir Dogs, which was itself inspired by an Asian film — so it made perfect sense that he had the black suit & tie look down with precision.

The South Korean’s mane of frosted silver hair gave him an air of elegant sophistication, but he was a friendly man —perhaps deceptively friendly.

There was the Woman From Paris, who he had seen on the plane from Zurich and not known that she was who she was.  The Woman From Paris was a force to be reckoned with.  She had very strong opinions, and had no fear of voicing them.

The two of them could just as easily be in accord as much as they could be on opposite sides of the fence.  Only time would tell.

Seated at the end of the table was the the Thailander, who had a name that required practice to pronounce.  The Thailander had been declared the Jury President by the Guild, and rightly so — he was a genius of illusion.

When the Canadian attempted to pronounce his name the Thailander smiled and said, “please, call me Joe.”  It was his job to set the ground rules for the Jury.

He was the leader, and in the end, should there be a draw in the selection, he would have the final say.

The Canadian sat at the table and they broke bread together, first getting to know each other, and then, gradually, opening up and becoming friends.

They were all so different, and yet so much the same.  But because they were in “the business” a bond of trust was formed — perhaps not unlike the bond between soldiers who’ve been in combat.

They understood that familiar facet of each other that they all shared — they were all Thieves.

It was time to go to the opening ceremony.

They walked together like a pack of lions through the medieval village of Locarno, whose name literally means “Lions Flesh” in Latin, and the narrow, uneven streets buzzed with vehicles too large to reasonably navigate simultaneously in both directions.

Yet, somehow, the Canadian observed, the traffic flowed with an arterial pulse.

Drivers were both seemingly aggressive and courteous, and it occurred to him that no North American would be able to share these roads with as much precision and harmony as the local Swiss.  One might have to be born here to be allowed to drive here — it wouldn’t be so surprising.

Once in the center of town the Canadian could imagine that a thousand years had been rolled back instantaneously, or that Hayao Miyazaki had chosen to mount a massive live-action production of Kiki’s Delivery Service here and hired the finest craftsmen from the Golden Age of Hollywood to realize it.

It was breathtaking and beautiful, and it certainly was a change from the wet brick buildings and snowy streets of Toronto, where he had pulled his last job before the Dutchman had made him part of his crew.

The opening ceremony was being held at a Chiostro, an ancient convent, whose inner square was packed with a gathering of their like kind.

Security was high, as was the sun, and the heat and humidity was unbearable for him — although everyone else seemed cool and comfortable.  He felt like he was in a pot of stew, and wondered if the Europeans were genetically superior to him — with more evolved sweat glands and cooling systems.  The Canadian wasn’t much one for pomp & circumstance, but this was an important event for their profession.

What would be determined over the next ten days, after a thorough vetting process, could have lasting repercussions for the one the Jury chose asthe Best Thief of the Year.

It was serious business, and the Jury was entrusted to make the best selection possible with the greatest respect for their contemporaries.

Later, there was a dinner at a 15th century castle that once housed the ruling Visconti family.

Here, to the Canadian’s surprise, he bumped into his old friend The Sweeny, a tough professional from the east-end of London who he had worked with on a job many years before.

Thank god the experience had gone well, for The Sweeny could easily pinch his head off at the neck if he so desired.

He may have been a carved-from-wood east-ender in his youth, but the old dog was now wearing a white three piece suit with a silk baby blue shirt.  He had with him his new crew, all from the east-end, and as they ate together the Canadian was getting London-speak in both ears — stereo.

“I could hang a wet cromby on it” he said in his thick accent after chatting up a young Portuguese girl who was serving him an elegant meal that went down in a single bite.  Then he turned to the Canadian, “tell me mate, ‘ow much porridge you get?”  He was of course talking about the jail time the Canadian had done in California.

“Too much, or not enough — it depends who you ask,” the Canadian responded.  He didn’t like talking about it socially — it was too painful — but he was among friends, some of whom had been there themselves and knew the story.

“It changed me,” he added quietly.

The Sweeny said nothing, but simply nodded knowingly.

When the night was over he gave the Canadian a hug and didn’t let go for a long time. What was said between them during that embrace didn’t require words.  The silence was much more profound.

Roger Avary

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